Raw underutilizes stars on first show after Hell in a Cell


With two pay-per-views per month and live shows on both Monday and Tuesday nights, there's a fatigue that comes with watching upwards of 10 hours of pro wrestling content that can harden even the most die-hard fan should the time invested begin to feel unrewarded.

It's a challenge WWE has brought upon itself in the current brand extension, forcing the creative team to always be "on." But for as riveting a watch as Sunday's Raw-exclusive Hell in a Cell pay-per-view was, and as consistently strong as Tuesday nights have become with SmackDown Live (and Talking Smack post-show), it's the flagship Raw that seems to be underachieving given the talent on the roster.

Raw's best moments of late have come from capitalizing on the comedic personalities of its top stars -- which continues to happen at the expense of the overall show.

It's the exact opposite of the philosophy seen on SmackDown, where the storyline in each feud is always the focus, allowing each superstar to shine within the context provided them. It's the reason why fringe performers such as Heath Slater, Rhyno and even, gulp, James Ellsworth have been able to get over with such apparent ease because their involvement never compromises the overall angle. The end always seems to justify the means.

Raw's placement opposite a franchise like Monday Night Football produces the kind of booking intended to entrap viewers, often through the means of cheap pops and the teases of outcomes and stipulations that never seem to come to pass. But the collateral damage becomes the abandoned storylines and gaping holes in the presentation.

Monday's show was no different.

For as strong of a pop as Goldberg received from the Hartford, Connecticut, crowd in the opening segment, and as nostalgically fun as it was to see him apply the Jackhammer to Rusev and surprise Paul Heyman with a spear, it wasn't enough to hide the overall sins.

While attempting to establish Goldberg once again as a physical threat is important, watching a superstar as red-hot as Rusev essentially job out to a 49-year-old who was 12 years removed from a ring wasn't a perfect sell. Neither was seeing Goldberg no-sell a stiff right hand only to fall to the ground while attempting a Muay Thai knee (something WWE was quick to edit out in a later replay).

And while fans have grown to accept Brock Lesnar's part-time status -- something made easier by Heyman's incredible work as his mouthpiece -- not having "The Beast" in person Monday was unforgivable, just three weeks out from their meeting at Survivor Series and one week removed from a botched promo that only set the feud back.

This week's Raw also failed to capitalize on the buzz from Sunday's pay-per-view, which wasn't helped in the attention-to-detail department by those who participated in hellacious cage matches just 24 hours earlier no longer selling any injuries.

Sasha Banks, the likely focal point of water cooler discussions following a compelling performance in the first women's Hell in a Cell match, never appeared on Raw and had her apparent status of being in a hospital bed merely mentioned in passing by Charlotte. Meanwhile, any thought put into teasing a possible Charlotte-Bayley feud in the near future was quickly dampened when Bayley suffered a brutal (and clean) loss to Nia Jax moments later.

The show's payoff ultimately came in the form of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns staring each other down in the ring as the credits rolled, moments after Rollins saved his former Shield teammate from a beating at the hands of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. But the prize of sitting through three hours never felt worth it, not after Rollins made the same exact save of Reigns on the Sept. 19 episode of Raw only to see that storyline instantly abandoned.

Raw surely had its moments last night. The decision to keep Owens and Jericho together was ultimately proven a smart one as the entertainment of their chemistry continues to be a high point. And for appealing visual gags, Enzo Amore's "Trick or Street Fight" against Luke Gallows certainly overachieved as WWE once again provided a fun holiday gimmick (reminiscent of the underrated food fight on July 4).

But if the next three weeks of storylines are going to be focused exclusively on building toward a series of traditional Survivor Series elimination matches against SmackDown that lack a compelling hook or prize at stake, it wouldn't be a surprise if many viewers tune out.

The best episodes of Raw are the ones that leave you feeling like something significant within the storyline was accomplished. The best ones also leave you wanting more.

Sadly, this wasn't the case Monday and hasn't been for weeks. The fact that Triple H literally handed the brand's top title to Owens on Aug. 29 and hasn't been heard from since is the perfect example.

Raw still knows how to handle the big moments better than any other show, but the flagship brand won't go back to delivering up to the level of its name until its foundation of booking a feud, cleansing it of storyline holes and carrying it out to a compelling completion returns.

Hits and misses

  • It has become a broken record to mention it in this space each week that no other WWE superstar can match the comedic streak that Jericho is currently on. It was evidenced by his performance late Sunday on the Hell in a Cell post-show "Raw Talk," when he put everyone from the camera man to a backstage worker who resembled Jerry Seinfeld on his infamous "The List." But credit Jericho for taking the gimmick one step further Monday when he dubbed the keys he used to lock himself in the cage one night earlier as "The Keys of Jericho," complete with a perfectly delivered "Lock it in maaannn ...." Well done.

  • It may have barely missed out as the best spot of the night but credit Owens and Jericho for pulling off a visually impressive move following the main event. Owens popped up Reigns into the air after throwing him off the ropes and Jericho followed through with a Codebreaker, providing his finishing move with the dangerous feel of an "RKO out of nowhere."

  • Amore's "Trick or Street Fight" with Gallows produced many comedic highs, including Big Cass' pre-match promo on malted milk balls and everything from a pie to the face of Karl Anderson to Gallows having his head jammed into an oversized jack-o-lantern. But Amore using the broken limbs of a skeleton to strike Gallows in the crotch while exclaiming "Break a leg, pal" was a high point, helping provide the kind of silly fun that holiday shows are all about.

  • For every step forward in the pairing of Cesaro and Sheamus, there is inevitably two steps taken back. One night after looking strong as a unit in defeating The New Day by disqualification while nearly snapping their lengthy reign as Raw tag team champions, the duo was back to their bickering ways. Cesaro's decision to eliminate Sheamus in the Battle Royal made little sense and threw away any cohesion the two had built the night before.

  • Having Braun Strowman win a Battle Royal to determine a spot on Raw's Survivor Series team was good booking for the big man, as was allowing him to deliver a lengthier promo backstage to general manager Mick Foley. There's definitely something there in Strowman that would necessitate a role larger than providing muscle within a faction. While WWE has taken it slow in rebranding him of late, it's time to pull off the restraints and see what they have in the "Abominable Strowman."

  • TJ Perkins appeared lucky to avoid serious injury after his hurricanrana from the top rope sent him and WWE cruiserweight champion Brian Kendrick to the floor, but not before Perkins landed hard on the ring apron in an almost pancake effect on the back of his neck. Further replays on Raw reminded just how dangerous these high-flying moves truly are despite how commonplace they have become.

  • Speaking of cruiserweights, considering how well the storyline has been handled in the title feud between a refurbished Kendrick and the newcomer Perkins, it would be nice to see the division be provided a second feud featuring real attention to detail. While Monday's six-man tag team match was fun to watch, the booking of the division is starting to feel too reminiscent to how the "Divas revolution" was initially handled in 2015, where nothing outside of the title feud seemed to matter.

Move of the night

It's fair to say that the cruiserweights have a predetermined advantage in this category due to the high-flying style of its combatants. But when a cruiserweight tandem is able to pull off a pair of breathtaking moves simultaneously in the same match, it becomes even that much more of a no-brainer. During a six-man tag team match, Lince Dorado and Cedric Alexander each provided the sizzle by landing different moves onto the floor just feet away from each other at the same time. Dorado connected on a moonsault from the ring apron onto Ariya Daivari while Alexander landed a stunning Tope Con Hilo onto Drew Gulak.

Line of the night

"That's a threat, right? You like giving threats and you like threatening me. Is that supposed to scare me, your threats? Because if they are, they are working." -- Raw general manager Mick Foley in response to Braun Strowman demanding more competition or else.